An unconvincing lie, of the sort made by an autistic person attempting to lie and failing. Autistic people are not known for our subtlety or social graces, and lying is no exception. Some autistic people simply do not lie. Other autistic people lie, but not as convincingly as neurotypicals do.

The origin of this term is unknown, but a USENET poster named Kalen used it in June of 2002. The phrasing in the post -- "What we call an 'autisti-lie'" -- implies that she is not the first person to use the term. Tony Attwood, an autism researcher specializing in Asperger's syndrome, has discussed this phenomenon without applying this name to it.

Of this kind of lie, Attwood says:

"The interesting thing is that when you're doing the research, the concept of lying is used to assess what we call the theory of mind of the younger kids, because often when they're young, they are breath-takingly honest . . . Then when they're ten, twelve, thirteen, they lie like a three or four year old, very badly. But once they learn that lying will work, they use it vigorously. All you can do is confront the person and be honest to yourself. If they can't see that, then you can't... 'there's none so blind as they who won't see.' I have no answer for that, but I know it occurs with some families."

Attwood, Tony, Transcript of Practical Strategies to Help Partners of People with Asperger Syndrome, 1999

Thus, the patterns of lying common in young children can carry over into adulthood in those autistic people who do lie. While some autisti-lies are innocuous, others are dangerous, involving business transactions or extra-marital affairs. These are things that many people would lie about, but few would lie with the tenacity of an autistic person. The existence of such lies contradicts the myth that autistic people are uniformly incapable of deceit.

Some may overshoot the mark, denying something even more vigorously than the classic the lady doth protest too much, methinks scenario. Others may simply repeat the lie even when faced with clear evidence of the falsehood of the statements.

For example, an autistic person who has eaten all the fudge might say "I didn't do it," despite the missing fudge, the fact that there's fudge all over their hands and mouth, and the threat of consequences if they don't confess. They may exaggerate further, claiming to never have liked or eaten fudge in their life.

In extreme cases, the person telling the autisti-lie will repeat a bald-faced lie for years. Autisti-lies can be very implausible, but it's nearly impossible to get the liar to admit to lying if he doesn't want to. This may be because some autistic people are afraid, despite any reassurances to the contrary, that the physical or emotional consequences of getting caught lying or being inconsistent are worse than the consequences of the lie or of the original act.

Tony Attwood's solution is to propose clear and drastic consequences if the person in question lies about something serious. As someone who used to tell autisti-lies, I can say that my fear of being inconsistent always outweighed any consequences, no matter how drastic. However, for people who tell autisti-lies for other reasons, this strategy may work. As for me, those around me had to wait ten years for me to figure out on my own that in most cases honesty is the best policy, and that inconsistency is better than the guilty conscience you can get from lying continuously for years.

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